When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act last June, justices left it to Congress to decide how to fix the law. But while Congress deliberates, activists are turning again to the courts: At least 10 lawsuits have the potential to bring states and some local jurisdictions back under federal oversight — essentially doing an end-run around the Supreme Court’s ruling. A quick refresher: The Voting Rights Act outlaws racial discrimination against voters. But the law’s real strength comes from its “preclearance” provision, which forces jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to submit new voting measures to the federal government for approval. In last summer’s “Shelby County v. Holder” ruling, the Supreme Court threw out the part of the law that spelled out when states were automatically subject to federal oversight. States that have been released from preclearance have already passed a rash of new restrictive voting measures.
More than half of all California voters who cast a ballot in 2012 did so by mail, not surprising since the state has been trending that way for many years. More interestingly, the California Civic Engagement Project at UC Davistook a closer look at 2012 voter data to try and understand how the vote-by-mail population breaks down along demographic lines. Researchers found that voters over the age of 55 and Asian voters are much more likely to vote by mail than Latino and younger voters. It’s worth noting that researchers used actual voter records for the analysis, data that do not include information about ethnicity. To break out numbers for Asian and Latino voters, researchers used a process called surname matching, in which names are compared against a dictionary provided by the U.S. Census. Lead author Mindy Romero said surname matching is common in political science when working with actual voter records and is considered to be 94-95 percent accurate.
Colorado: El Paso County plan would add polling places within minutes from every resident | The Gazette
By the 2014 primary and general elections, more than 90 percent of El Paso County voters will have polling places and ballot drop-off locations within 10 minutes of their homes. Clerk & Recorder Wayne Williams discussed his office’s 2014 plans with the Board of County Commissioners Thursday. A doubling of polls and drop-off sites will make sure elections in Colorado’s most populous county go off without a hitch and, more importantly, in compliance with a state law passed in May of 2013. Colorado House Bill 13-1303 outlines its polling center and drop-off requirements based on population. According to Williams, the law requires El Paso County to have 23 polls for general elections, four for primaries and 11 24-hour ballot drop-off locations.
Florida: Voting bill would allow on-line registration; restrict absentee drop-off locations | Palm Beach Post
A Florida Senate committee Monday moved forward with a bill that would make a few changes in Florida election law, including putting new restrictions on drop-off locations for absentee ballots and allowing online voter registration in the state. The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee unanimously approved introducing the measure (SPB 7068), which will still have to return to the panel for another vote. Because of that, Democrats backed away from offering amendments that could still become flash points in the debate over the measure. Much of the controversy over the provisions in the bill focused on language that would allow elections supervisors to provide secure boxes to receive absentee ballots, but only at early-voting locations and supervisor of elections’ offices.
A southwest Indiana county is developing a new accountability system using “archaic” methods after a discovery that thousands of votes weren’t counted in the 2012 general election. Nearly 3,800 early votes cast in Warrick County during the 2012 general election went uncounted because of an error by an electronic voting machine technician. The lost ballots included that of county Clerk Sarah Redman, who said her top priority this year is having every vote count – even if it means using an old-fashioned system of checks and balances. “When I say archaic, I mean old pen and paper that I want (them) to jot down. I don’t want to go by any reports that shoot out of a computer,” Redman told the Evansville Courier & Press.
A wide majority of Iowans believe it’s more important to ensure ballot access for eligible voters than to guard against voting by those who are ineligible. That result, captured in The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll, casts new light on a debate that has been raging in the state and across the nation for years over the appropriate balance between ballot access and security. Seventy-one percent of poll respondents say it’s more important that every eligible, registered voter is able to vote, compared with 25 percent who say it’s more important that no ineligible person “slips through the cracks” to cast a vote. “Americans care about preventing voter fraud, but they care more about making voting free, fair and accessible,” said Myrna Perez, an expert on voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Secretary of State Jason Kander said last week he still is hopeful that the Missouri General Assembly will consider changes in state election law that he believes would make it easier for residents to make their choices at election time. Kander for the past two sessions has lobbied for passage of measures based on recommendations from a bipartisan election commission he named soon after taking office as the state’s chief election official. Among other things, the commission recommended that the state enact an advance, or early voting, system and no-excuse absentee balloting by mail, to provide more opportunities for voters who may not be able to make it to the polls.
South Carolina: Bill clarifies that State Election Commission is responsible for presidential primaries | Associated Press
Taxpayers would continue to at least partly fund South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential primaries in the future under a bill backed by both major parties. The bill, which lawmakers advanced Monday to the full House Judiciary Committee, clarifies that the State Election Commission is responsible for conducting the contests. It does that by deleting from state law a reference to the 2008 election cycle. Rep. Alan Clemmons, the subcommittee’s chairman, said the bill means future presidential primaries will be funded through the budget like any other election, offset by filing fees that candidates pay.
Utah could offer the nation’s first presidential primary in 2016. The House voted 58-14 Monday to pass HB410, sending it to the Senate. The bill would allow Utah to hold a presidential primary a week before any other state — conducted solely by online voting. However, the early date could bring punishment from national political parties, which have rules to protect New Hampshire as the country’s first primary and Iowa as the first caucus.
Senate Republicans moved three election-related bills through committee last week, removing a controversial provision from one and taking no action on a fourth bill that was criticized by election watchdog groups. The caucus is also balking at other controversial election reforms such as doubling campaign contribution limits, an Assembly-approved bill requiring voters to present photo identification and a constitutional amendment to change the recall process. Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, also added an election reform idea to the mix: ending same-day voter registration; however, he immediately acknowledged the bill had no chance of passing this session. Of 15 election-related bills still under consideration, eight have Democratic support, while the prospects for at least four remain up in the air, said Dan Romportl, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.
The Taliban threatened voters Monday and warned they will “use all force” possible to disrupt Afghan presidential elections next month, posing a crucial test for the country’s security forces seeking to show they can bring stability as the West prepares to end its combat mission by the end of the year. The Taliban’s first direct threat against the vote was one half of a double blow to hopes for a peaceful outcome from the elections. Observers said the death of the influential vice president over the weekend deprives the country of a powerbroker who could have prevented bitter recriminations among factions after the new leader is named.
Bulgarian right-wing activists backed by the opposition GERB party demanded on Monday a referendum to challenge the voting rules in the Balkan country in what has become an increasingly divisive issue in the run up to European vote this May. About 150 people marched from Sofia University to the parliament building in downtown Sofia and submitted more than 560,000 signatures to parliament calling for the referendum – above the half million they need to force a plebiscite. Recent opinion polls show the Socialists and centre-right GERB are running neck-to-neck in support ahead of the May election.
The federal government has recently introduced legislation aimed at significantly revising the powers of Elections Canada. Critics of the Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23) contend that the bill offers an electoral advantage to the governing Conservatives, suggesting that its provisions have been designed to suppress voter turnout among segments of the population traditionally unfriendly to the Conservatives. That may be true, though we would suggest there are at least two ways in which the Fair Elections Act might actually hurt the Tories come 2015. No wonder the Tories were so nervous. The government had been noticeably skittish about what Marc Mayrand would say before the Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee Thursday: not only had it kept the chief electoral officer largely out of the loop in the months before it introduced its landmark Fair Elections Act, but there was doubt whether he would even be allowed to testify about it afterwards. A promise to that effect had been made to the NDP’s David Christopherson the night before to persuade him to end his filibuster of the Act in committee. Yet on the day Mr. Mayrand’s testimony was interrupted by the calling of not one but two votes in the Commons just as he was scheduled to speak.
A former Marxist rebel commander’s tiny lead in El Salvador’s presidential election is irreversible, the country’s electoral tribunal said on Monday, but his right-wing challenger demanded a full recount, insisting he was the real winner. Salvador Sanchez Ceren of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), which as a rebel group fought a string of U.S.-backed governments in the 1980-1992 civil war, claimed victory on Sunday after preliminary results showed he had won 50.11 percent support. Challenger Norman Quijano, a former mayor of San Salvador and candidate of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena) party, had 49.89 percent support. The two men were separated by just 6,634 votes.
Knesset members are expected to make it tougher for others to join their ranks Tuesday, by voting to raise the threshold for entering the Knesset to 3.25 percent of valid votes in a general election. It was not yet clear how all the Hatnuah and Habayit Hayehudi MKs were planning to vote on the so-called Governance Bill. Monday’s debate on the bill took place without the opposition MKs, who were boycotting the session. Several Hatnuah MKs were critical of the governance bill, which some say will reduce the number of Arab MKs because there are far fewer Arab voters than Jewish ones, making it harder for Arab candidates to get enough votes to push them over the threshold.
The administration of Crimea has not sent an official invitation to the OSCE to monitor the referendum in Crimea, Rustam Temirgaliyev, deputy prime minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, told Interfax. “We are really ready to accept monitors from the OSCE, but not as military advisers, let alone the NATO countries, but real monitors. A verbal invitation was indeed made by Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov, but no official invitation was sent,” he said. The administration of Crimea has invited representatives of the Russian Central Elections Commission and monitors from the CIS countries, he said. “We are open to various international organizations, but only if they are ready to send monitors, not saboteurs, military experts and advisers. We don’t need the help of such ‘specialists’,” he said.